79 receptions. 1070 yards. Eight touchdowns. By all measures, Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown is having himself a stellar season that has him on pace to break many of the franchise’s receiving records, several of which he set himself just last season.
But one of the more remarkable facts about his performance this year has been the fact that he had been so secure with the ball all season. Between offense and special teams, Brown was targeted 109 times and has fielded 26 kicks, giving him 135 opportunities to put the ball on the ground.
Prior to the Jets game, those numbers had been 100 and 23, respectively, and in those 123 opportunities, he never fumbled or allowed the ball to be intercepted, never muffing a punt, though he did have four drops on offense.
He had 12 chances to touch the ball on Sunday against the New York Jets, and two of those chances resulted in a change of possession on what may have been the most frustrating performance of his career.
Back in 2012, Brown actually fumbled twice in two different games, but in each of them, he only lost one. He also had at least seven receptions for 75+ yards and a touchdown in each of those games.
Brown tried to make up for his mistakes against the Jets, but it still came out looking like his worst performance of the season—which, admittedly, isn’t easy, given the remarkable run he’s had.
His 74 receiving yards is the first time this year that he has failed to gain at least 80 yards through the air in a game. It’s also only the second game of the year in which he averaged less than 10 yards per reception, and the first game in which he failed to record at least one explosive play of 20 yards or more.
The Steelers had just fallen behind 10-0 after a long 67-yard touchdown pass, and the offense was looking to get the drive off to a good start with a positive play when Brown fumbled for the first time.
It came on a short screen pass that didn’t seem to have much chance for success early on. Brown was lined up in the slot, and had the ball stripped away before he even got to the line of scrimmage, recovered by the Jets at the Steelers’ 20-yard line.
It took New York five plays to get the ball in the end zone again, putting up 17 unanswered points on their first three drives to bury the road team in a hole out of which they could not dig.
The Steelers managed to drive all the way to the 10-yard line—with only a six-yard reception from Brown—before Ben Roethlisberger was intercepted.
The defense eventually forced the Jets to punt, but when Brown ran up to the ball in the hopes of making a play, he let it bounce off his hands, and it was recovered at the 28. The only saving grace is that the Jets only gained a yard and missed a 45-yard field goal.
The reality is that nobody is more sick over his performance than Brown is himself. It was obvious when the cameras shot over to him on the sidelines looking dejected. He will move on and be his usual self again, but he’ll have to own this one, and remember it. The team needs him to.